Earth Day 2022 at A.L. Fortune Secondary was a day for planting trees, as well as the seeds of reconciliation.
Students at the Enderby high school rolled up their sleeves to plant 75 trees, donated by the B.C. Small Wetlands Association, along the edge of the school property Friday morning. Hundreds more trees were donated to schools throughout the school district to be planted at similar events this week.
Besides getting young people involved hands-on with an environmentally conscious activity, the day was also about Indigenous reconciliation. Mishel Quaal, district principal of Indigenous education for School District 83, said the two themes are a natural fit for one another.
“We think about all the gifts that the Earth has given us, and we think about the Indigenous relationship with the Earth and the respect that that brings,” she said. “Having this activity of reconciliation on the same day as Earth Day is very powerful.”
Quaal recalled speaking with students about what it will be like for them when they visit the school 10 years from now, “when they come back and they see the growth of the tree and they think about this day, and what it means, and also the growth of reconciliation throughout Canada.”
The act of planting trees is something Secwepemc knowledge keepers have been advocating for in schools, Quaal said.
“What we heard from them was the importance of our kids getting their hands dirty, getting physically active in this type of work.”
The Earth Day ceremony began with opening remarks from Secwepemc Elder and knowledge keeper Ethel Thomas and Splatsin Coun. Leonard Edwards, followed by a performance by the school’s drum team.
“Everything that we have on this land we have to be grateful for,” said Thomas, speaking Secwepemctsin and translating in English.
The B.C. Small Wetlands Association plans to provide 7,000 trees to schools over the coming years.
“It’s great just to see (the students) outside enjoying the weather and the meaning behind it is incredible,” said Jason Minaker, field manager for the association.
In a bittersweet end to the ceremonies, principal Scott Anderson acknowledged the retirement of Indigenous support worker Dodie Jones after more than 20 years.
Jones gave thanks to a number of her colleagues and students, calling the school her “second home.”